He, Who Is Able: The Sovereignty of God (A Study in the Attributes of God)

INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever heard of the Republic of Fredonia? Well, the Republic of Fredonia was founded (if you want to call it that), by a man named Haden Edwards. Mr. Edwards was an Empresario near Nacogdoches in the territory of Texas in the mid 1820’s. For those who don’t know, an empresario was a settler, but more than that, the empresario would actually petition a government (in this case Mexico), for the right to not only settle on a piece of land but to also recruit other families to settle that land along with them. So, when Haden Edwards came to Nacogdoches in 1825, he had already acquired a grant from the Mexican government to bring some 800 families along with him.

Soon after, however, troubles began when Edwards started having disputes with some of the established settlers over the validity of their land clams. See, Mr. Edwards was obligated to recognize any pre-existing title to land or property, but many of those who were already living on these lands only had verbal contracts that dated back decades, or fraudulent titles that were sold to them by con men. So Edwards started evicting these established settlers from the land. It was more beneficial for him to kick off the poor foreigners that were there, especially if he could replace them with rich, U.S. emigrants. So that’s what he did.

But when the local alcalde (which was like a Spanish Mayor) heard what was happening, he started validating the old land titles that were in question, effectively preventing the evictions that Edwards was pursuing. In response, Edwards, then declared himself the captain of his own militia, and forced his colony to hold elections for a new alcalde. It was shortly after that Mexico revoked the land grant and ordered Edwards to leave Mexico, which would have cost him a fortune. Instead, he took steps to further alienate himself from both Mexico and his fellow colonists, and on December 16th, 1826; Edwards, his brother, and just 30 of his settlers, invaded Nacogdoches and seized the Old Stone Fort, and 5 days later, Edwards declared the former Edwards colony to be known, now, as the free, and independent, and sovereign Fredonian Republic.

However, the Fredonian Republic was not to last very long at all. Fully expecting Mexican retaliation, Edwards signed a peace treaty with several of the local Indian tribes, and even sent a messenger to request help from his neighbor, and fellow empresario, Stephen F. Austin. Austin, sadly, was not very encouraging to Edwards, and instead sent the rather curt response, “You are deluding yourselves and this delusion will ruin you.”

If those words were not enough to persuade Edwards of his foolishness, or if it wasn’t the abandonment of the Indian tribes that swore to come to his aide but never did, then it must have been the 110 Mexican infantry, aided by 250 of Austin’s own militia that must have done it; because on January 28th, 1826, Edwards and his like-minded Fredonians were driven from Nacogdoches, and back into the U.S. territories. And just 37 days after it had begun, the Fredonian Republic was no more.

I recount that story not just because it’s a good story; not just because it’s interesting history, and it is. But when compared with the eternal, all powerful, all encompassing, and all effective sovereignty of our Almighty God; every single nation whether it be America, or China, or England, or the Roman Empire, or Pharaoh, are all just as fleeting, just as fickle and just as impotent as the Fredonian Republic. More so.

SOVEREIGNTY DEFINED:

God’s sovereignty is one of the most debated, one of the most hated, one of the most resented, and one of the most wonderful truths in scripture. It is through God’s sovereign grace that we sit here today as God’s children, and by His sovereign choice that others do not. It was through this attribute that, at the birth of the Reformation, we came to understand what we now call the doctrines of grace. And the more I come to personally understand and believe in and trust in the sovereignty of God; the more I come to rejoice in, and give thanks to God that He acts in accordance with His own will and not mine.

So let’s take a look at this attribute of God’s sovereignty and examine some of the key aspects that the Bible teaches us about it. First, let’s define it. From all I’ve read, I’ve seen it phrased in a number of ways, but I would say that the sovereignty of God is God’s unique ability to act; which He chooses to perform through both His authority to act and His power to bring about all things according to His own free will.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

“[He] who is able.” Essentially, God’s sovereignty is His ability to carry out His decree. If you remember back when we looked at the decree of God, we saw that God’s decree was His purpose in not only the act of creation, of all things both spiritual and physical, but also in His determination to sustain and bring about all things throughout the entire history of that creation. One of the characteristics of God’s decree was that it was efficacious. It is effective. God has no goals. What God has decreed; what He has declared He would do, He will do. And He alone is able to do those things because He has both the authority to do them, as the Creator, and because He alone has the power and ability to carry them out.

Similarly, as God’s decree was good, so too His carrying out of that decree is good. As God’s decree was wise, He is also wise in His sovereignty. And as God’s decree was unconditional, and free from any outward influence; so too does God freely act without being influenced by any person, place or thing, whether physical or spiritual.

Psalm 103:19

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,

And His sovereignty rules over all.

Psalm 47:6-8

Sing praises to God, sing praises;

Sing praises to our King, sing praises.

For God is the King of all the earth:

Sing praises with a skillful psalm.

God reigns over the nations,

God sits on His holy throne.

So now that we’ve defined what God’ sovereignty is, let’s now look at some specifics. As we just said, God is sovereign over all things. He has the ability to freely act and bring about all things, but there are three areas where the Bible most readily demonstrates this, and those are in creation, in providence, and in salvation. And we’re going to take a look at each one today.

CREATION:

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The bible that we hold in our hands begins with those words. There has always been this appeal made to man. That things exist as they do, that things are as they are, and what will be will be because of this one simple and yet incomprehensible fact; that God created the heavens and the earth. Before anything existed, God was. And then, in the midst of nothing, something. All because God created it. The bible teaches us that we should glorify God through this truth. We should sing songs of praise and worship, and give thanks in prayer. All because God is our Creator, and our Provider.

Psalm 148:1-6

Praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD from the heavens;

Praise Him in the heights!

Praise Him, all His angels;

Praise Him, all His hosts!

Praise Him, sun and moon:

Praise Him, all stars of light!

Praise Him, highest heavens,

And the waters that are above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,

For He commanded and they were created.

He has also established them forever and ever;

He has made a decree which will not pass away.

Psalm 33 6-9

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,

And by the breath of His mouth all their host.

He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;

He lays up the deeps in the storehouses.

Let all the earth fear the LORD;

Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

For He spoke, and it was done;

He commanded, and it stood fast.

Jeremiah 10:11-12

Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

It is He who made the earth by His power,

Who established the world by His wisdom;

And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.

Hebrews 11:3

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

And one more in the book of Romans just to demonstrate that all people are called to this same purpose of exalting God through creation:

Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

God decreed before the foundations of the world that He would create the world, and through this creation He would be known. God has revealed Himself to the entirety of creation through creation. All men and women know that God exists whether they admit it or not, whether they suppress it or not, they know. They are accountable. They owe God praise and honor. “To Him be the glory” (Ephesians 3:21). In sin, they have fallen short of that glory. We all have. But we’ll get back to that.

We often use the phrase “created order”. We understand that God didn’t just create the world haphazardly, but that He created it in a particular way and for a particular purpose. God created the world in six days, and on the seventh He rested. We are told not only that He created, but the order in which He did so. On the first day He created light; on the sixth, man.

Genesis 1:27

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

It’s this order, not only in creation, but in the very order of male and female that Paul appeals to when writing Timothy about teachers.

1 Timothy 2:12-13

But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quite. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.

Paul makes a similar case to the church at Corinth while talking on the very subject of order in regards to head coverings:

1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ… For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God, ; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

I know these are heavily contested passages, but I don’t mean to dispute them here and now. All I want us to see here is that God had a purpose, not just in creation itself, but in the sovereign choices He made in the very act of it. God is absolutely sovereign in creation.

PROVIDENCE:

Next, we’ll take a look at God’s sovereignty in His sustaining work of providence. As created time ticks by, it unfolds the decree of God throughout history. Some of the future things have been revealed to us already in scripture, but certainly not exhaustively, or even moderately. What He has revealed, He’s done so for our good, and to give us hope in those things which He is prepared to do. For the most part, however, we wait and see what God has in store. There are many things that we remain unsure of until they are upon us, or have just come to pass.

We don’t even need to turn to the Bible to know that what you hear from a weatherman’s mouth is all one giant guess. We often find ourselves either lugging large coats or umbrellas that we find out we didn’t need after all. Or worse, we may find ourselves without one, when we are in most desperate need of one. We look at tracks of hurricanes going this way and that. We look at evidence, and we crunch numbers, and we come up with our best educated guess. But what you and I can know and be sure of is that in eternity past, God already plotted the course of every storm throughout time. God has never guessed one thing, ever. Or, as the famous question, which was asked by Adrian Rogers goes, ‘Has it occurred to you that nothing occurs to God?’

The Bible proclaims the sovereignty of God over every event in history. Whether good or bad, every act that has ever happened in this universe has done so under the reign of our potent, and sovereign Lord. We saw this when we looked at the decree of God. In Acts 4 we read that God brought the Jews and gentiles, and Herod, and Pontius Pilate together during the crucifixion of Jesus, and as it reads in Acts 4:28, “To do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28). I also mentioned Isaiah 10 at the time but we didn’t turn there; so let’s turn there now.

Isaiah 10:5-7

Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger

And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,

I send it against a godless nation

And commission it against the people of My fury

To capture booty and to seize plunder,

And to trample them down like mud in the streets.

Yet it does not so intend

Nor does it plan so in its heart,

But rather it is its purpose to destroy

And to cut off many nations.

See what’s happening? God calls Assyria “the rod of my anger”; that is, ‘the rod of God’s own anger’. Then what does He do with it, “I send it against a godless nation”; that nation being Judah. God sends the Assyrians against Judah. This is an act of God. But what do the Assyrians think? Do they believe they’re doing the Lord’s will? Do they ask, ‘If God be for us who be against us?’; no! What do they believe? Look at verse 7, “Yet it does not so intend Nor does it plan so in its heart, But rather it is its purpose to destroy And to cut off many nations” (Isaiah 10:7). The Assyrians have a different purpose, don’t they? They want to wipe Judah off the map. But here’s where it gets interesting. Look a few verses further down beginning in verse 24:

Isaiah 10:24-26

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “O My people who dwell in Zion, do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod and lifts up his staff against you, the way Egypt did. For in a very little while My indignation against you will be spent and My anger will be directed to their destruction.” The LORD of hosts will arouse a scourge against him like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and His staff will be over the sea and He will lift it up the way He did in Egypt.

Yes, this is the same chapter of Isaiah, and in it, God is now telling Judah, “do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod and lifts up his staff against you”. It was God who sent the Assyrians to, as He said in verse 6, “trample them down like mud in the streets”, but now, as remarkable as it is, God is comforting the people of Judah, and reassuring them that Assyria will soon be destroyed for what its done to them. How do we understand that?

Well, I could go back to what we said when we looked at the decree of God, or I could try to come up with some long drawn out explanation. But the truth is quite clear, and quite simple, and quite biblical. Turn with me to the book of Genesis. In chapter 50, as Moses is concluding this wonderful book with the story of Joseph, we come to the end, right after Joseph’s father, Jacob has died. And after he dies, Joseph’s brothers (the ones who sold him into slavery), they start to get scared all of the sudden, that perhaps in his grief, Joseph might take out his anger on his brothers that wronged him. And Joseph’s response tells us all we ever need to know about why things happen the way they do in this world.

Genesis 50:18-21

Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. “So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph knew that his circumstances and his trials and his pain and his suffering were all meant for good. And likewise, that they were of God. Paul echoes this sentiment in Romans 8 when he writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God works all things together for good. All things. He is sovereign and rules over all. These are really large scale examples of God’s providence, but God sustains everything; He upholds everything. Allow me to demonstrate.

Matthew 10:29-30

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Proverbs 16:33

The lot is cast into the lap,

But its every decision is from the LORD.

Psalm 149:16-18

He gives snow like wool;

He scatters the frost like ashes.

He casts forth His ice as fragments;

Who can stand before His cold?

He sends forth His word and melts them;

He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.

Isaiah 40:26

Lift up your eyes on high

And see who has created these stars,

The One who leads forth their host by number,

He calls them all by name;

Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,

Not one of them is missing.

1 Peter 3:17

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

Job 38:25-30 (This is God asking questions of Job rhetorically)

“Who has cleft a channel for the flood,

Or a way for the thunderbolt,

To bring rain on a land without people,

On a desert without a man in it,

To satisfy the waste and desolate land

And to make the seeds of grass to sprout?

“Has the rain a father?

Or who has begotten the drops of dew?

“From whose womb has come the ice?

And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?

“Water becomes hard like stone,

And the surface of the deep is imprisoned.

And these are just a very small sample of verses that I could have chosen. The bible is filled with this truth. I think it’s safe to say, in fact, that the bible preaches, in no small order, the absolute sovereignty of God in His providence, wouldn’t you? Now, there’s one theme that I started to see as I was doing my research for this lesson, and it always seems to come down to one main issue. That one being the paradox of human responsibility in light of God’s absolute sovereignty. Ultimately I can’ t explain it. We dealt with this, once again, when we looked at God’s decree (see how they keep linking together?). All I can tell you, is that human responsibility exists through God’ sovereignty, not in opposition to it. We just saw God working through the Assyrians and still holding them accountable for their actions. If anything, it should make us feel more aware of our actions.

SALVATION:

Well, now we come to matters of doctrine concerning salvation. And this is one of the most debated issues among Christians today. I’d even go so far as to suggest that when we have any argument with those of a non-protestant faith, if that be Catholics, or Muslims, or even Atheists, not to mention some even within the protestant faith, namely Arminians; that on some level, we are debating the sovereignty of God. Whether we’re talking about God’s sovereignty in election, or in His sovereignty regarding His revealed word, or His decree to allow sin into the world in the first place. God’s sovereignty, His free to act in accord with His purpose is almost always at the center of the debate.

I actually watched a portion of a sermon by a man that has no right debating any doctrine whatsoever, but I was absolutely compelled to watch at least some of it given that the title of the message was, in fact, “The Sovereignty of God”. That man was Creflo Dollar, and as I started watching, it became apparent almost immediately that this man was way, way off base. He actually used the phrase “a balance between faith and grace”. I don’t know what bible this man is reading, but someone needs to tell him quickly that faith is all of grace! 100%. There’s no balance. Without grace, you have no faith! But I kept watching, and it was somewhere around the third commercial break where he finally gets to the point of his sermon, and after defining the sovereignty of God, fairly accurately, albeit in rather simple terms, he then responds to it in this way:

“Think about that, something’s already wrong with that. It’s like if everything that happens, happens because, you know, that was totally God’ will for it to happen, then why do anything? If everything that’s gonna happen, is gonna happen because there’s God’s will for it to happen, then we don’t even need a free moral agency. I mean if you get sick, that’s God’s will, if you have a wreck, that’s God’s will, if you die, that’s God’s will, if you’re healthy, that’s God’s will, If you live over seventy, it’s God’s will, if you die at 20, that’s God’s will. Can’t you just sense something’s not right about that.” – Creflo Dollar (The Sovereignty of God)

My response to Mr. Dollar would be, ‘Can’t you just read your Bible, and submit to it?’ I’m sure you’ve all been paying attention. Do we really need to go back over all the scripture we’ve gone through? Is God sovereign over creation? Yes! Is God sovereign over the weather, the wind and the waves? Yes! Is God sovereign over the lives of even the smallest creatures, and the biggest stars, and, in fact, every moment in time, and at every point? Yes! Is God sovereign over all the things that Creflo Dollar just objected to? YES! And praise God for it!

I had a similar experience when I picked up a book titled Arminian Theology by Roger Olson (It’s a book that my father gave me who is an Arminian in his faith). It’s written as a series of responses to common objections, or “Myths” about the faith, and I started reading the chapter titled Myth 5: Arminian Theology Denies the Sovereignty of God. I only got about two pages into it when something about it struck me as peculiar. So I skimmed ahead, and over the course of twenty pages, I found but one single scripture reference. I knew from that moment that there was no point in reading it. Mr. Olson clearly couldn’t contend with scripture. He couldn’t open up God’s word and show me where I was in error. So all I was going to get was philosophy, not theology. And, if you’re wondering, that one scripture reference that I saw was Matthew 6:10, and it was actually being used as evidence against the sovereignty of God. It’s the verse from the Lord’s prayer where Jesus said, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Immediately following that verse, Mr. Olson asks this question, “If God’s sovereignty were already completely exercised de facto, why would anyone need to pray for God’s will to be done on earth? Well, I was completely dumbfounded. The Lord’s prayer is all about His sovereignty. “Your kingdom come”, “Your will be done”, “Give us”, “forgive us”, “do not lead us”, “deliver us”. I don’t know, maybe Mr. Olson is the only person who’s had all his prayers answered by God, but for me, there are things that I have prayed about for years, and I still wait for God.

Ultimately, Mr. Olson and Mr. Dollar are in the same boat. Neither one of them can accurately handle the word of God. Strike that, they don’t seem to handle it at all. They barely interact with it. If we truly are imitators of Christ, then we will always seek the truth of His word as our first priority, not a last resort. So let’s do that now.

As I said earlier, at the start of the Reformation, there was a revitalized emphasis placed on the sovereignty of God. In particular, in regards to the doctrines of grace. Those being the Total Depravity of man, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. And as we go through them, you’ll find the sovereignty of God throughout all of them.

Total Depravity (Man’s Inability):

John 15:16

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give you.”

John 6:44

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 3:3-5

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Unconditional Election:

Romans 9:11

for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand , not because of works but because of Him who calls,

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works , so that no one may boast.

Limited Atonement:

Matthew 1:21

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

John 10:11

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

Irresistible Grace:

John 3:8

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 6:37

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

Perseverance of the Saints:

John 6:39

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

Philippians 1:6

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Brother’s and Sister’s, we have no reason to ever doubt the sovereignty of God. It’s proclaimed over and over again in God’s word. If you take away nothing else from this lesson, take this away. We can always have absolute confidence in our lives knowing that God is not only in control, but that He is active in all things at all times. We can put our trust in Him. We can rely on Him. We can give thanks to Him. I’ll leave you here with this great quote from J.I. Packer:

I do not intend to spend any time at all proving to you the general truth that God is sovereign in His world. There is no need; for I know that, if you are a Christian, you believe this already. How do I know that? Because I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers. In prayer, you ask for things and give thanks for things. Why? Because you recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you have had already and all the good that you hope for in the future. This is the fundamental philosophy of Christian prayer. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgment of helplessness and dependence. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not in our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our own independent efforts. Every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands. – J.I. Packer (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility)

Amen!

For the audio of this lesson, you can stream or download from SermonAudio by clicking HERE!

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